Chief scientist says UK needs more nuclear power sites

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The Independent Online

Nuclear power requires a renaissance in the next decade to allow Britain to combat global warming, the government's chief scientist argued yesterday.

"The key new driver is climate change," said Professor David King. "It seems clear to me that our dependence on fossil fuels would be unchanged unless there is a new nuclear build at least to replace existing nuclear power stations."

Those stations currently produce 27 per cent of Britain's electricity – but all are in line to be shut down and decommissioned in the next 30 years.

His comments won a cautious welcome from Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for the Environment.

She said that while more nuclear power stations are not needed to cut Britain's carbon dioxide emissions by 2010, as required under the international Kyoto Protocol to fight climate change, "there is an issue beyond that, because our emissions are forecast to begin rising again after 2012 if we don't take further action".

Professor King has argued that at the very least, decommissioned nuclear power plants must be replaced if the UK is to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

At the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Mrs Beckett said: "Professor King rightly identifies that there's an issue.

"In the end though it would be up to the nuclear industry to come forward with new proposals for stations, and they have not done that yet."

Under the Kyoto Protocol Britain has to cut carbon dioxide emissions to 5 per cent below their 1990 levels by 2010. That requires a 12.5 per cent cut from today's levels.

The Protocol will become legally binding once it is signed into British law in 21 days, after being laid before Parliament yesterday by Mrs Beckett. She insisted its targets would be met, despite independent analysis from the Cambridge Econometrics Group, which suggests emissions will overshoot due to the increased level of coal being burnt because of rising oil and gas prices.

But the suggestion that nuclear power should stage a return angered environmental groups. Roger Higman, senior energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "Nuclear power is uneconomic, unsafe and unpopular. What is more it produces highly radioactive waste which no one yet knows how to store safely."